The closer we get to Halloween, the more horror/thriller type films come to our cinema screens. Much more in the mood to experience a thrill rather than a scare, I decided to opt for The Snowman, a British made big screen adaption of the successful 2007 novel of the same name by the Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo. Not to get too morbid, but serial killers are kind of my jam, so I went in to this with the hope that it would provide me with a satisfying slice of a guilty pleasure that gets you weird looks if you go too far in to details at a dinner party!
Set in Norway, the film tells the story of Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), an alcoholic but brilliant murder detective who teams up with new cop on the block Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) to investigate a series of past and present murders that they come to believe are the work of a serial killer dubbed ‘The Snowman’. The film operates with a lot of attitude and a melancholy tone like many of the other Scandinavian crime thrillers over the years, but unfortunately the difference here is that whilst the likes of The Killing and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are brilliant, this is overwhelmingly disappointing.
From what I can surmise, the narrative is quite far removed from the original source material, with the filmmakers attempting to tell a stand alone story from what is actually the seventh book in the Harry Hole series. Though the story being told is packed with plenty of intrigue and the methods of ‘The Snowman’ are genuinely disturbing at times, there is just something about the direction of the film that feels extremely muddled to the point of causing distance between the audience and the on screen proceedings. My companion and I certainly had some fun going through the motions of “it’s him”, “no wait, it’s him”, “oh no, it could be him” as all the relevant twists and turns unfolded, but in truth, the stakes never felt high enough to have me truly invested, with the only edge of the seat moments coming more from the prospect of gore than the thrill of the crime solving chase.
Recent interviews have explained that the film’s production was hampered by a shorter filming schedule, and you can definitely see this in both the pace of the picture and in the slightly rushed, busy editing. It almost feels like The Snowman is a film that has been given an identity after the fact rather than the filmmakers having a clear vision in the moment, and as you might imagine, this doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying watch. There are certainly worse serial killer films than this, but in a genre so packed with quality if you know where to look, The Snowman fails to make any kind of lasting impact. One thing it does have going for it is its location and cinematography. The physical look of the film actually tricks you in to thinking that you are watching something more impressive and substantial than it actually is.
This becomes an even greater shame when you consider the absolutely stellar cast that are involved. We all know at this point that Michael Fassbender is a future great, arguably already a great, but whilst he is perfectly fine in this, its clear he’s pretty much sleepwalking through the entire affair. Fassbender’s raw on screen charisma help things out a great deal, but it’s certainly not a performance that it going to be regarded up there alongside his best. As sidekick Katrine Pratt, Rebecca Ferguson brings a little more of the quintessential intrigue that these Nordic affairs usually possess. As a pair, the two actors are enjoyable to watch and share an authentic chemistry, but the confines of the messy plot aren’t particularly kind to them.
An array of solid if not particularly memorable supporting performances are given by great actors including Chloe Sevigny, J.K. Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Toby Jones, all of whom are very much above the material and above their meagre role, and again this cast of brilliant actors plays a similar trick on the audience as the great cinematography, the trick of falsely elevating the picture way above its station until you come to your sense. Aside from the otherwise great cast last, I’m not even going to go in to a bizarre performance from Val Kilmer in a significant flashback role, mainly for the fact that I’m still trying to process it myself! The man looks like a parody of his former self and his presence in the picture is completely distracting from the serious and melancholy tone that they are trying to achieve.
Overall, The Snowman is the kind of film that might be good enough to sustain an evening where you want some intrigue and mystery without having to do any heavy lifting, but I don’t think will be a film lover in the world who would want to give it the benefit of a second viewing. The bones of a decent film that stems from an even better source material, that somehow thanks to poor filmmaking choices and constraints turned out to be a grade A dissapointment.